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Who is a Jain Shravak: 15.1 Non-Violence: The Vow of Amity and Compassion

Published: 25.02.2020

The word 'dharm' (religion) has been the most important andutopian word in the Indian tradition and culture. State, power, administrator or emperor - none of these words are as cherished as 'dharm'. Even people with prosperity and position took shelter of religion. People feel reassured under the haven of religion.

Three Practices of Religion

Religion can be practiced in three forms:

  1. naitikata(Morality)
  2. upaasana(Rituals)
  3. adhyaatm(Spirituality)

1. Morality: Morality is the first aspect in the practice of religion. Without morality, religion cannot be inculcated. Morality playsits role when there is interaction or contact between two or more people. The foundation of morality lies on behavioural patterns of one person with another. Each person behaves with others in a different way. One person can behave cruelly with someone, but the victim may behave compassionately with the doer. For example, cruelty and morality cannot co­exist. On the other hand, compassion can exist with morality. There is a significant difference between both the behaviours. Cruelty is an immoral behaviour, whereas compassion is a moral behaviour. Similarly, honesty, integrity, truthfulness, absence of deception are also moral behaviours. A person with moral attitude can be considered as religious initially.

2. Rituals: Rituals are the second type of religious practice. Chanting the    name of one's religious preceptor is a way of paying respect. Sitting in the pious presence of one's religious ideal and offering prayer etc. are rituals.

3. Spirituality: Spirituality is the third practice of religion. Spirituality means to realize the self. This practice needs the person alone. Morality needs at least two parties. Spirituality is staying within the self, realizing the self, enhancing inner qualities such as knowledge, intuition and conduct etc.

Importance of Morality

When people do not believe in morality, but practice rituals only are deceiving others. There is, then deception in the rituals. Rituals without morality become counterfeit. Let's understand this with an illustration.

A devotee had keen faith in God. Upon fulfilment of his wish, he wanted to worship God. On the way to the temple, he thought, 'My wish has been fulfilled by the grace of my God. I should make some offerings at the temple.' He went to the market and bought some bananas. Having taken them in his hands, he approached the temple. As he stepped inside the temple, a thought arose, 'What should I offer to my deity - the upper part of the banana or the inner one?' Biased by greed, he offered only the peels to the Deity and ate the bananas.

Four months later, the deity fulfilled his wish again. This time he bought some fresh dates and went to the temple. As he climbed the steps, his mind again conceived a thought, 'It is not good to offer the same things always. Last time I offered the upper part of the fruit. Hence, this time I should offer the inner part of the fruit.' Having decided so, he offered only the seeds to the deity while he saved the dates for him.

Why does one deceive at all? When life is devoid of morality, one deceives others.

The first step of religion is morality. Therefore, it should be developed in life. Anuvrat (small vow) is the code of conduct of morality. Bhagawan Mahavira explained the twelve vows for a shravak. AcharyaTulsi explained these vows clearly relating with all living beings and which can be applied by all human beings easily. As an illustration, in Shravak Sambodh, ahimsa is explained as:

hai paanch anuvrat pratham ahimsa vaani,
hantavya na isamen niraparaadh tras praani.
sthaavar ki seema, vrat vyaapak ban jaaye,
aatankavaad ka ant svayam aa jaaye.

i.e. ahimsa is the first anuvrat out of five. This vow tells not to harm any innocent mobile beings. Beyond that, a shravak should limit the violence of one-sensed beings too. The problem of terrorism will be minimized by the practice of these vows.

Ahimsa Anuvrat

The anuvrat of non-violence is first of the five anuvrats. This is concerned with ahimsa and needs to be carefully understood. A householder who follows this anuvrat refrains from unnecessary violent activities as far as it is feasible for him.

Once, AcharyaTulsi was residing in Kanpur. Vinoba Bhave raised a question expressing that Jainism gives highest importance to non-violence, while he laid much emphasis on the vow of truth. Mahatma Gandhi has also accepted truth prior to non-violence. Without truth, there is no ahimsa. AcharyaTulsi explained it through an example of laddu (Indian sweet). He stated that every part of laddu is sweet. Each segment has the same taste. Similarly, purity of soul and the character attained through any practice would always be favourable. Irrespective of non-violence being predominant or truth, the practice of both is necessary.

Furthermore, AcharyaTulsi continued, 'in our view non-possession (aparigrah - the vow of limiting the desires of possessions) should be the first anuvrat. If we delve on the reason for violence, the answer is that violence is being done for acquiring possessions or accumulation of wealth. If the yearning for possession is curbed, occurrences of violence will correspondingly diminish.

If there is no greed for wealth, violence will not increase. The main cause of violence is the never-ending greed for possession, accumulation of wealth and the desire of getting civil or human rights. Ahimsa, as a first vow in Jainism, is accepted by carrying out a deep analysis. Jain Acharyas said, 'We give prime value to the vow of non-violence as it is easy to understand and practice. Anyone can accept the concept of not killing or hurting any being.' It is also said by Acharyas

ahimsa payasah paalibhutaanya - nyavrataani yat

i.e. ahimsa is akin to water and all other vows are boundary to protect the water of ahimsa.

A boundary is must to make a pond. Similarly, the vows of truth, non-stealing, celibacy and limitation of desire for possessiveness are the boundaries for protecting the water of non-violence.

The Practices of Ahimsa

In fact, non-violence, truth and non-stealing are not distinct categories but different form of ahimsa. These have been classified due to their practical utility. Not to tell a lie is the vow of truth. Not snatching other's rights is non-stealing, to control one's sense organs or not to indulge in sexual pleasures with anybody other than spouse is the vow of celibacy and to limit the desires is the anuvrat of non-possession. These are all, in fact, various practices or extensions of non-violence. They differ only in their way of expression and perspective.

From the viewpoint of Anekant, there is no rigidness of accepting any of the other vows as an extension of non-violence only. Other vows can be accepted as practices of truth or non-stealing also. The concept of non-violence is broad and easy to comprehend. For this reason, ahimsa is at the forefront. 'aparigrah parmo dharmahh- when this voice was raised, Dr. D. S. Kothari approached Acharya Tulsi and said, 'Non-possession cannot be the foremost principle but non-violence can be. Ahimsa is applicable to everyone while non-possessiveness does not apply to a poor one.' To this, Acharya Tulsi replied, 'Man, generally, commits violence for accumulating possession. If he refrains from earning and collecting more than his needs, there will be no room for violence. Possession is the root cause of violence. Yet, we do not have any objection in giving priority to non-violence. It is just the matter of perspective.'

Ahimsa at Ground-level

A religious man believes in non-violence. He wants to lead a non­violent life. However, a householder cannot survive without violence.

In this situation, what should a shravak do? Preaching about the non-violent life-style for a shravak, Bhagawan Mahavira said, 'A shravak should begin his life with non-violence at ground-level.' It means, avoid unnecessary violence and thereby the violence will be minimized. The ground level of ahimsa can be practiced by resolving that he would not kill any innocent mobile living being deliberately.' This is the starting point of non-violence.

This resolution focuses on three key words: deliberately, innocent and mobile living beings. It can be explained as follows:

  1. It might be difficult for a shravak to protect himself from the possibilities of killing a creature unexpectedly, but he can save himself from killing any specific being intentionally. Any violence occurring with this resolution can save the shravak and help him in practicing non-violence.
  2. It seems impossible not to take any action against those who are trying to attack, rob, kidnap or harm him or his family members in any way, to protect their wealth and family from the culprit. Nevertheless, shravak should ensure that no innocent life is harmed.
  3. It is impossible for a householder to avoid killing immobile living beings, such as earth-bodied, water-bodied and plants etc. Though, these beings satisfy his basic necessities. However, with little awareness one can minimize violence of mobile living beings. A shravak can refrain from such violence completely. A shravak needs to sustain his life, but even in doing so, he can limit the violence against immobile living beings by avoiding unnecessary violence.

Building a Non-Violent Society

A question then arises why is unnecessary violence done? In fact, a person gets inclined towards the path of purposeless violence, when he is under the spell of delusion and desires. Worldly pleasure, attachment, greed and the like are primarily the causes of violence in the society today. By putting on the armour of resolution, cruel and unnecessary violence can be avoided. One who believes in leading a restrained life can limit the violence of immobile living beings.

'I will not kill any innocent life'- practice of this small vow can solve and uproot the prevalent burning problem of terrorism, because terrorists kill innocent lives who have not done any harm. Simply to intimidate the government, they harm innocent masses. To avoid the harm of innocent mobile beings, this vow is introduced. Therefore, this simple vow can become a panacea for such senseless terrorism.

A man willing to build a non-violent society should practice the following vows:

  1. Not to kill mobile living beings.
  2. Not to kill innocent living beings.
  3. Not to kill any being intentionally.

Ahimsa for animals

The era of Bhagawan Mahavira was the age of agriculture. Those days, people were predominantly dependent on agriculture. Animals were an integral part of agriculture. Bhagawan Mahavira emphasised that a shravak should not behave cruelly with animals. A common misconception is that killing mobile living beings is the only form of violence. In fact, violence has other forms too. During the period of BhagawanMahavira, five types of violence against animals were in trend:

  1. Vadha- to beat with brutality
  2. Bandhan- to bind up strongly
  3. Anga-bhang - to peel the skin and cut off the organs like nose, ears etc.
  4. Atibhaar- to load with heavy weight
  5. Vriti-vicched- reduction in livelihood or food intake of the dependent beings.

Such violence is not necessary for man's survival. However, most of such vicious actions are stimulated by greed. It is essential to refrain from such violent instincts not only from a religious viewpoint, but also from the humanitarian viewpoint. Recently the system of agriculture has improved. Now animals are not required as much due to the advent of technology. Nasty behaviour with animals is still surprisingly prevailing. For instance, people continue to load animals with heavy burden.

Apart from agricultural utility, animals are treated heartlessly for entertainment, cosmetics, medicines, etc. Bull fighting and other barbaric entertaining activities involving animals are an outcome of hobbies of rich people. Small and big creatures are killed in brutal ways to produce cosmetics and accessories. Luxurious desires of few people take the life of many innocent beings. Even for scientific research, thousands of animals are tortured and succumb to death. It is evident that humans today are selfish. They think of themselves as the whole and sole of the universe, with no respect for any other living beings. Just for their transitory happiness, they are indifferent to the life of animals.

Acharya Bhikshu once said, 'raankaannei maar dhingaan nai pokhe a to baat ghani chhe geri.' The killing of small creatures to save the lives of big creatures is not genuine, but inhumanity. Organizations such as the Human Rights Commission are conscious more about the security and comforts of humans at the cost of life of other beings, assuming man as supreme amongst all living creatures. Why those voiceless creatures are not protected?

On one hand, security for mankind is paramount whilst on the other hand, terrorism is increasing daily. Terrorism means a planned killing of humans. Neither the government nor the public have been able to curb the problem of terrorism that is prevailing globally. Such cruelty against animals, humans and all other innocent living beings is despicable. Therefore, in the following verse AcharyaTulsi says, binding, cutting of organs etc. should be stopped and compassion should take place of cruelty. Sharavk must have maitri (amity) for all living beings.

vadha bandhan anga bhanga atibhaar nahi ho,
vichchheda vritti ka kyon bekaar kahin ho.
kyun rahe krurata? karuna komalata ho,
shravak jeevan mein maitre nirmalata ho.


Title:  Who is a Jain Shravak?

Acharya MahaPragya


Sadhvi Vishrut Vibha

Publisher:  Adarsh Sahitya Vibhag, JVB
Digital Publishing: 
Amit Kumar Jain

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Acharya Bhikshu
  3. Acharya Tulsi
  4. Acharyas
  5. Ahimsa
  6. Anekant
  7. Anga
  8. Anuvrat
  9. Anuvrats
  10. Bandhan
  11. Bhikshu
  12. Celibacy
  13. Gandhi
  14. Greed
  15. Jainism
  16. Kanpur
  17. Karuna
  18. Mahatma
  19. Mahatma Gandhi
  20. Mahavira
  21. Maitri
  22. Naitikata
  23. Non-violence
  24. Pratham
  25. Shravak
  26. Soul
  27. Tulsi
  28. Vinoba Bhave
  29. Violence
  30. vrat
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